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"Reading Communities and Re-Entry"

Roberta Stewart

Dartmouth College

This paper summarizes a program of book groups that have now run in New Hampshire for eight years (premises, design, logistics, and sessions) and assesses recent innovations, particularly the development of all-female reading groups (2016) and an NEH funded collaboration with New Hampshire Humanities and Dartmouth College to develop a curriculum combining ancient and modern war stories and to train facilitators for the programs (2016).

The book groups ("From Troy to Baghdad: Warfare and Homecoming in Homer's Odyssey") provide a venue for a form of teaching as community outreach that facilitates individual engagement with a text as a basis for self-reflection and narrative construction about personal experience. The work of the groups is premised on the dialogical relationship of reader and text (Bakhtin), validating equally male and female, academic and non-academic readers as authoritative interpreters of Homer. While war can silence language, literature can break the silence. The groups parallel analytical studies of war stories as cultural artifacts by which individual societies have processed the experience of war in order to create a usable past (Moeller 2001) and critical studies of the value of communal discourses in personal narrative construction and identity formation (e.g. stories of recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous, cf. Holland and Skinner 1998).

The 2016 women's group responds to a perceived need of female veterans for their own group and raises the challenge to develop strategies for reading and appropriating ancient male-authored texts in order to explore modern female experience and return from war. This paper will assess the capacity of the Homeric texts to counter the perceived invisibility that female veterans report experiencing as they transition from military to civilian status.

This project will bring team-facilitated discussions of Homer’s Odyssey plus contemporary texts to groups of veterans in four New Hampshire communities beginning in fall 2016. The combination of ancient and modern texts allows veterans to develop an appreciation of deployment and reintegration as human problems—products of war-- across cultures and across time. The project innovates in the role developed for veterans who become both "subjects" of the book-group program and also authors of it. Veterans collaborate in identifying modern literary war stories to complement the Homeric narratives and so they gain control if you will, of the discourse about war and veteran’s experience about war. Veterans collaborate to train facilitator teams for the programs, to facilitate the groups, and to evaluate the work of the groups. At every level the program works to give veteran’s themselves authoritative roles in programming that is intended or designed to help them. The paper will describe the developed curriculum and the training workshops from the summer 2016.

The importance of this work cannot be over-stated. At a time when less than 1% of the population of military experience, the configuration of the grant and the reading groups model respectful and productive dialogue of veterans and civilian about the realities of war and create common ground based on a shared intellectual experience.

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New Outreach and Communications for Classics: Persons, Places, and Things

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